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Video: Cancer-stricken Douglas faces difficult weeks ahead

  1. Transcript of: Cancer-stricken Douglas faces difficult weeks ahead

    MATT LAUER, co-host: Back now at 8:10. Oscar winner Michael Douglas shocked some fans when he announced on Tuesday night that his just-revealed throat cancer is in the most advanced stage. The Hollywood icon just finished his first week of chemotherapy and radiation and he seems upbeat and optimistic. But what does the future hold? Here's NBC 's Miguel Almaguer.

    Mr. MICHAEL DOUGLAS: I got cancer . So I've got cancer , found out about it three weeks ago.

    MIGUEL ALMAGUER reporting: On " The Late Show with David Letterman " Tuesday, Michael Douglas spoke openly about his diagnosis. The Hollywood icon is battling stage IV throat cancer . Still, his spirits are high.

    Mr. DOUGLAS: Let's say I'm -- let's say I'm pretty lit up -- I'm pretty lit up right now.

    ALMAGUER: But Douglas knows the disease of often deadly. Fight cancer , especially one this advanced, is never easy.

    Mr. DOUGLAS: And the radiation continues to burn your mouth...


    Mr. DOUGLAS: ...and becomes more difficult to swallow. You can't take solids.

    ALMAGUER: Douglas , who appeared a bit slim, has finished the first of what will likely be eight weeks of treatment. After a biopsy revealed the walnut-sized tumor on the base of his tongue last month, the 65-year-old quickly began chemotherapy. Douglas blames his cancer on his lifestyle.

    Mr. DOUGLAS: I smoked cigarettes and I drank, and this particular type of cancer is caused by alcohol drinking.

    ALMAGUER: But the legendary actor likes his odds. He told Letterman he has an 80 percent chance of beating cancer .

    Dr. GERALD BERKE (Chief of Head and Neck Surgery, UCLA): It's a very serious problem and it's not to be treated lightly.

    ALMAGUER: Dr. Gerald Berke , a throat cancer specialist at UCLA , says the weeks ahead will be especially difficult.

    Dr. BERKE: He could have some changes in his hair loss from the chemo. He's definitely going to lose some weight. He's probably lost weight already just from the malignancy. He's going to have some mucositis from the radiation, he's going to have some trouble swallowing and he may have some changes in his voice.

    ALMAGUER: Douglas , who's married to Catherine Zeta-Jones , won his first Academy Award for producing " One_Flew_Over_the_Cuckoo 's_Nest" in 1975 .

    ALMAGUER: And his second for the memorable role of Wall Street tycoon Gordon Gekko in 1987 .

    ALMAGUER: Later this month, " Wall Street : Money Never Sleeps" hits theaters. But for now, movies seem an afterthought.

    Mr. LETTERMAN: Did they find it early enough for their liking?

    Mr. DOUGLAS: I sure as......hope so.

    Mr. LETTERMAN: Yeah.

    ALMAGUER: For TODAY, Miguel Almaguer, NBC News, Los Angeles .

    LAUER: Dr. Nancy Snyderman is NBC 's chief medical editor and a board certified head and neck cancer surgeon, and Peter Castro is the deputy managing editor of People magazine , who recently interviewed Michael Douglas . Good morning to both of you.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hey, Matt.

    Mr. PETER CASTRO (Deputy Managing Editor, People Magazine): Good morning.

    LAUER: Peter , let me start with you. I mean, I think a lot of people were surprised how upbeat, how good he did look on Letterman the other night. When you interviewed him...

    Mr. CASTRO: Right.

    LAUER: ...same mental attitude?

    Mr. CASTRO: Going in, he's an entertainer, and he was on. But he was clearly fatigued throughout the interview and really rallied to do it. But our reporter told me afterward that he was really, really tired and understandably so.

    LAUER: Nancy , I'm uncomfortable getting into specifics because, let's face it, only Michael and his doctor know the exact situation.

    SNYDERMAN: I couldn't agree more.

    LAUER: And I don't want to speculate. But generally speaking, what we do know is they found a walnut-size tumor in his throat. He's gone through a week of treatment right now. Did his condition and his spirit surprise you when you saw him on the air after a week of chemotherapy and radiation?

    SNYDERMAN: His spirit no, his weight loss was to be expected. This tumor on the base of the tongue spreads -- can spread quickly into the lymph nodes of the neck. And that's probably why they're staging it a stage IV and they're concerned. These spread very quickly. And the treatment many times is surgery first. If the patient says 'No, I don't want the surgery,' because frankly it's too big and disfiguring and can impair the voice, then chemotherapy and radiation are sort of the second and third lines of treatment choice.

    LAUER: Let me go to the comment that -- or the question that David Letterman asked was, do they think they caught it early enough.

    SNYDERMAN: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: The fact that it is stage IV , does that not tell us they didn't catch it very early?

    SNYDERMAN: It tells you that his prognosis is guarded, that they wish they had caught it early. And he, remember, talked about cigarettes and alcohol. That is a lethal combination. The alcohol does change the lining of the throat, making the carcinogens of the cigarettes more potent. He also had a sore throat and an earache. And a soar throat and an earache in a heavy smoker are always big warning signs for cancer surgeons.

    LAUER: I think Catherine Zeta-Jones also told People magazine that she was frustrated because he'd gone to a lot of doctors trying to figure out why he had this sore throat and nobody came up with this until the end.

    Mr. CASTRO: He was a lot more sanguine about it than she was. She told us that she was very, very furious. And furious is a word she used that they did not catch it in time. She's not happy.

    SNYDERMAN: And it depends on what doctors you see. You know, sometimes doctors don't think to look down around the tongue, and frankly, for a lot of ear, nose and throat surgeons, you look but you also feel. You have to put your finger in a mouth and feel around. And you can feel these lumps inside tongues and that may be one of the reasons why it wasn't found.

    LAUER: Just also just mention, he's had a very stressful year, too.

    SNYDERMAN: He's had a tough year.

    LAUER: I mean, some difficulties with his son. His ongoing legal difficulties with his ex-wife over some proceeds or revenues from the movie. And so I imagine stress is not the thing you want in your life when you're going through something like this.

    SNYDERMAN: It's not. And the big thing he's going to have to really think about now is nutrition. It is so hard for people undergoing treatment like this to get enough calories into his body. So things -- everything you think that you shouldn't eat for health reasons they're going to want him to eat. Calories, fat, sugar, milkshakes and I wouldn't be surprised if he has a tube put in his intestines or his stomach to help even get further supplementation in.

    LAUER: Well, say it every time we do this story, he's a friend of this show and a friend...

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Photos: Michael Douglas

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  1. The ants go marching

    Michael Douglas waves to the crowd during the"Ant-Man" panel during Comic-Con International 2014 at San Diego Convention Center on July 26, 2014 in San Diego, California. Douglas plays Dr. Hank Pym, who invents the Ant-Man technology and takes on the role until passing it down to Scott Lang, played by Paul Rudd. (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Famous faces

    Douglas, Diane Keaton, and Rob Reiner attend the "And So It Goes" premiere at Guild Hall on July 6, 2014 in East Hampton, New York. Douglas and Keaton star in the romantic comedy, and Reiner directed. (Sonia Moskowitz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Tickling the ivories

    Douglas stars as Liberace in "Behind the Candelabra," and won an Emmy for his role in the 2013 HBO film. (Claudette Barius / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Golden night

    Douglas poses with the Golden Globe award he won for best actor in a miniseries or TV movie for his role in "Behind the Candelabra" at the 71st annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, California January 12, 2014. The film also won the best miniseries or TV movie award. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Two generations

    Douglas poses with his dad, acclaimed actor Kirk Douglas, at a 2011 event honoring the younger Douglas with an award named for his father. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival has given out the Kitk Douglas Award for Excellence in Film since 2006. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Fashionable faces

    Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones attend the Michael Kors Fall 2011 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011 in New York. (Evan Agostini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Fore!

    Douglas on the practice range during the first practice round of The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at The Old Course on September 27, 2011 in St Andrews, Scotland. (Ross Kinnaird / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. On the mend

    Douglas gives a thumbs-up as he arrives with his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, for the 68th Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. The veteran actor, who finished treatment for throat cancer in late 2010, said at the awards that he's cancer-free and feeling great. (Mike Nelson / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Wild about wizards

    Douglas and Zeta-Jones, along with their children Dylan, 10, and Carys, 7, ride the Flight of the Hippogriff over The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and past Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida on Nov. 27, 2010. The family visited the theme park over the Thanksgiving holiday as Douglas continued to recover from cancer treatment. (Matt Stroshane / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Dad's duty

    Douglas is seen in New York as he takes his daughter to school on Nov. 9, 2010. One month removed from radiation and chemotherapy treatments to combat his stage IV throat cancer, the multiple Oscar winner believes he's on the mend. (Arnaldo Magnani / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Leading man

    Douglas, center, poses with actresses Carey Mulligan, left, and Susan Sarandon at the premiere of "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York on Monday, Sept. 20, 2010. (Evan Agostini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Gordon Gekko is back

    Douglas brought back one of his most iconic characters, Wall Street financier Gordon Gekko, in 2010's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." Douglas won a best actor Oscar for his role in the original 1987 film, in which Charlie Sheen played a young stockbroker who aspires to be like Gekko. In the sequel, Shia LaBeouf plays the fiance of Gekko's daughter who strikes a deal with the mogul. (Barry Wetcher / 20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Battle lines are drawn

    Douglas waves to the "Late Show" audience after a hug from host David Letterman during the Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2010, taping of the show in New York. Douglas said he faces an "eight-week struggle" of radiation and chemotherapy in his fight against throat cancer but is optimistic about his chances for recovery. (CBS via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Kicking up fun

    Douglas, right, speaks with Kyle Beere, age 13, and his uncle Andrew Wools from Cardiff, Wales, during a visit to the Children's Hospital for Wales in Cardiff, where Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones met staff and children on Friday, July 23, 2010. Zeta-Jones was born in Wales. (Ben Birchall / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Family woes

    Douglas is seen here in April 2009 with his son, Cameron. On April 20, 2010, Cameron Douglas was sentenced to five years in prison for possessing heroin and dealing large amounts of methamphetamine and cocaine out of a New York hotel room. Michael Douglas publicly assumed blame for "being a bad father" but said he was thrilled his son was in prison, because without such an extreme level of intervention "he was going to be dead or somebody was gonna kill him." (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. In 'Solitary'

    Douglas took on a serious role in 2010's "Solitary Man," playing a car dealer whose life suddenly falls apart. (Millennium Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Gold in them thar ... Costcos?

    In 2007's "King of California," Douglas played a man who was convinced that the San Fernando Valley holds buried treasure. When he's released from a mental institution, he convinces his daughter to go hunting for it with him -- underneath the floor of a Costco store. (First Look Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Goofy guest

    Douglas played Kate Hudson's doting father in 2006's "You, Me and Dupree," with Owen Wilson as a houseguest who overstays his welcome. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Like father, like son

    Michael, left, and Kirk Douglas pose for a portrait in Los Angeles on April 12, 2005. The documentary film "A Father, A Son: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" profiles the two actors and their relationship. (Greg Gorman / HBO via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Honored in Switzerland

    Douglas received the Crystal Award at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Saturday Jan. 28, 2006. The Crystal Award is presented by the forum to artists who use their work to reach out to other cultures. (Michel Euler / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Family affair

    Kirk, Michael and Cameron Douglas all played roles in 2003's "It Runs in the Family," a comedy about the problems of three generations of a wealthy New York group. (MGM) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. May-December?

    Douglas and his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, seen here with him in 2003, are exactly 25 years apart. He was born Sept. 25, 1944, and she was born Sept. 25, 1969. Zeta-Jones says that when they met, Douglas told her "I want to father your children." They now have two, Dylan Michael and Carys Zeta. (Lucy Nicholson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Magic number

    Douglas starred with the late Brittany Murphy in 2001's "Don't Say a Word." He plays a psychiatrist who must somehow retrieve a six-digit number from Murphy's character's mind in order to save his own daughter's life. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Full of 'Wonder'

    In 2000, Douglas starred in "Wonder Boys," playing a professor and novelist who finds his life veering towards disaster. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Stopping 'Traffic'

    Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones were among the stars of the 2000 film "Traffic," which won four Oscars and was made into a television miniseries. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. 'Perfect' crime

    In 1998's "A Perfect Murder," Douglas plays a rich older man who discovers his wife (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) is cheating on him, and seeks revenge. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. In dad's footsteps

    In 1997, Michael Douglas had his footprints placed in cement at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. His father, Kirk Douglas, stands behind his son. The older Douglas had his own hand and footprint ceremony in 1962. (Vince Bucci / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Kings of the jungle

    Douglas and Val Kilmer starred in 1996's "The Ghost and the Darkness," about lions that attacked workers on an African railway in 1898. Reviews were mixed -- while the film won one Oscar (for sound editing), it also earned a Razzie Award nomination for Kilmer. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Mr. President

    In 1995's "The American President," Douglas played a U.S. president who falls in love with a lobbyist played by Annette Bening. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Working world

    In 1994's "Disclosure," based on a Michael Crichton novel, Douglas and Demi Moore star as executives with a prior relationship who become embroiled in a sexual harassment case. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Pure 'Instinct'

    Douglas and Sharon Stone star in 1992's "Basic Instinct," which became infamous for a scene in which Stone's character flashes detectives during her interrogation. (Sony Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Not so rosy

    "The War of the Roses" has become a synonym for a troubled and protracted divorce. In the 1989 film, Danny DeVito plays a divorce lawyer who tells a client the story of a couple, played by Douglas and Kathleen Turner, who fight a deadly battle to end their marriage. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Greed is good

    Douglas first played Gordon Gekko in 1987's "Wall Street," in which his millionaire character takes up-and-coming stockbroker Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) under his wing and shows him how to make big money. The film, and Gekko in particular, later came to symbolize the go-go 1980s. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. I won't be ignored, Dan

    Like "Wall Street" and "The War of the Roses," 1987's "Fatal Attraction" has passed into the English language. The phrase has come to refer to a romantic relationship where one partner refuses to admit things are over. Douglas played a married man who has a fling with Glenn Close's character, who begins stalking him and his family -- including in one infamous scene, the family bunny rabbit. (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Marry in haste...

    Douglas married his first wife, Diandra, in 1977 after dating just six weeks. They divorced in 2000. Their son, Cameron, was sentenced to five years in prison on drug charges in April 2010. (Jim Smeal / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. 'Stone' cold

    Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, who would later reunite in "The War of the Roses," also starred together in 1984's "Romancing the Stone." The film was written by Diane Thomas, a waitress who died just six weeks before the film's sequel was released in 1985. Thomas died in a Porsche that Michael Douglas had purchased for her, although she was not driving. (20th Centurty Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Digging a hole to 'China'

    Jack Lemmon, Douglas and Jane Fonda star in 1979's "The China Syndrome," about journalists who discover safety issues at a nuclear power plant. The film's title comes from the concept that a nuclear plant's core could melt through the earth and reach China. Twelve days after the film's release, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident occurred in Pennsylvania. (MGM) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. One flew East...

    Douglas won an Oscar for his work as producer on 1975's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The film swept the major categories at the Oscars that year, winning for best picture, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. On the 'Streets'

    Before striking it big in movies, Douglas was a small-screen star. He starred with Karl Malden in the 1970s police drama "The Streets of San Francisco." (ABC) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Just starting out

    Douglas played his first starring role in 1969's "Hail, Hero!" He was nominated for a Golden Globe for most promising male newcomer for his role as a college student who joins the army during the Vietnam War. (Keyston / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Hollywood family

    Douglas was born into Hollywood royalty, the son of legendary cleft-chinned actor Kirk Douglas, shown here with Michael, right, and younger son Joel, who worked as a producer during the 1970s and 1980s. The boys' mother, Diana Dill, appeared on the cover of Life magazine in 1943. Reportedly Kirk Douglas, then serving in the navy during World War II, saw the cover photo and told his shipmates he would marry her. They divorced in 1951. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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